Skyrocketing rents. Google buses. New restaurants on every corner. There is an impassioned conversation happening in San Francisco about the latest tech boom and the deep impact it is having on the fabric and character of our city. It is a hot topic in newspapers and blogs, and San Franciscans are debating it at coffee shops, parks and dinner tables.
In all of this, one question has been conspicuously absent: What does the tech boom mean for our city’s schools? And what should we ask the tech community to do to support the next generation of San Franciscans?
As the only millennial on the San Francisco school board, I have a unique perspective. Googlers and Facebookers are my peers and friends. I believe there is an important place for them in San Francisco, and that they are here to stay. I also know that in order to build 21st-century schools and an inclusive, prosperous San Francisco, we need their help.
It is critical that we open up opportunities for all of our children to benefit from our city’s economic, cultural, and social dynamism and innovation. Far too many of our young people, particularly those in the most disadvantaged parts of our city, are increasingly unable to access the experiences and skills to stay and thrive here as adults.
Building innovative technology companies in San Francisco is admirable and a valuable contribution to our city’s economy and culture, but their presence alone is not charity. Living in a city with new startups popping up every day and tens of thousands of tech company employees has to mean something more for our kids than higher rent, fancy coffee shops and Muni delays.
There are concrete, positive actions that our tech community can take right now to help restore San Francisco’s social contract with our children and families. No student in San Francisco schools should be without a mentor, a paid internship, or access to training in coding and computer engineering. Tech companies should work with The City to establish a local-hire pipeline to recruit, develop and hire San Francisco residents. Our public schools should be hotbeds of innovation where students and teachers — at every grade level — are equipped with the latest technology and know how to use it.
Amping up the positives of a tech presence for our schools is essential, but it does not diminish the need for a serious conversation to address gentrification and affordability. The consequences of a rapidly ballooning tech sector are real, especially for children — when families are displaced or have trouble affording food or rent, there is a huge impact on students and their academic success. In fact, it is these very costs that create a heightened responsibility on the part of tech companies to our city’s kids and families.
The incentive is there for both sides: Working closely with our city’s tech sector to support our youths will break down barriers, leading to greater mutual understanding, local talent pipelines and stronger, more equitable communities.
There are already great examples of the tech community’s contributions to building 21st-century schools — Salesforce.com, Zynga, sf.citi, the Sara & Evan Williams Foundation and others have come forward to support our schools. Just this week, Mayor Ed Lee, the San Francisco Unified School District and Salesforce launched a Middle School Leadership Initiative, a comprehensive approach to transforming the middle school experience for our students including full integration of digital content and iPad technology. Building on these efforts, we need a policy-based, coordinated movement, embraced by public officials and leaders in the tech community to expand upon these promising beginnings.
It’s time to broaden public dialogue across San Francisco about what our residents expect of our tech community — not only how to address the serious challenges, but also how to build on the latest San Francisco tech expansion and create opportunities for our children, our families and our schools.
Matt Haney is a member of the Board of Education.